Organic fruits and vegetables

Organic fruits and vegetables
To Love Oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance. --Oscar Wilde

Friday, May 29, 2015

GM Oh Oh

As a child I was extremely picky.  I wouldn’t mix my foods, and I would only eat stuff that I was well acquainted with. My mother often thought I was starving because I seemed to eat very little.  What she didn’t know was that I was sitting, most of the afternoon, in the cherry tree picking and munching on cherries, or sneaking raw nuts from the cupboard.  I was a grazer, eating many healthy foods but just not interested in eating meals. There is a kind of wisdom in childhood finickiness.  We evolved as a species by having children who were picky eaters. This protected them from foods that might make them sick or even kill them.  Nature built children to be safe. 

By the time we’re adults we’ve widened our palates to include more foods. But some of the foods we ate as children are very different from the foods we eat today. They often look the same, but genetically there are big differences.  Scientists are modifying many of our foods genetically in order to manipulate the characteristics of the food.  They aren’t very exacting with their changes however, and often other genes are turned on or off in the process of changing one gene. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea considering that some these foods have genes that have only been around for a few decades.   

The jury is really still out on Genetically Modified Foods.  Some of the most common GMO’s in our diets include corn, beets (used in sugar), canola, soy beans, cottonseed (for oil), papaya, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash, and alfalfa (animal feed).  It’s true that genetic modification has been done at the organism level for the last 10,000 years since agriculture began.  But now we are beginning to modify foods at the cellular level.  We’re crossing species boundaries to create brand new kinds of foods.  Scientists are putting genes from bacteria and animals into plants.  Even human genes have been tested.  Some people call this “cell-invasion technology”.  Scientists working for biochemical companies are manipulating certain genes to have benefits, like resistance to herbicides.  Then farmers can spray herbicides, like Round-up, all over the fields (in record amounts).  That kills everything else in the field but their product. Many soil scientists think that this could kill the soil in years to come.  Other scientists are noticing a huge drop in important insect populations such as bees and monarch butterflies from the excessive spraying of GM crops.

The GMO issue is extremely complicated.  As I have read many sides of the issue I find that, as in all things, nothing is actually black or white.  There may be some new species that are being invented that would really benefit mankind, like the new golden rice. It has been engineered to have Vitamin A in its genetic structure. This could be extremely helpful in countries with problems with vitamin A deficiency.  However there are other modifications that are questionable.  What can we trust?

Many diseases are on the rise in our society since GMO’s have been introduced.  There is correlation here, but not causation.  This means we need to sit up and begin to take notice.  Almost all of the research that has been done on genetically modified foods is by the industries producing them.  Much more outside research is yet to come.  There are scientists at the FDA who believe that some GMO foods may be inherently dangerous.  There is no real scientific consensus on their safety.  The World Health Organization has failed GMO corn, soy and papaya because they contain amino acids that are similar to known allergens.  They contain new proteins that have never been part of the human food chain before. These new organisms could create allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems.  No human clinical trials of genetically modified foods have ever been conducted.  Since many of these foods are now in our food supply, it appears that we are the lab mice. 

75% of processed foods we eat are genetically modified. 90% of the soy and 85% of the corn in this country are genetically modified.  Much of the feed we give to the livestock in the United States comes from round-up ready GMO crops like soy, corn, cottonseed, canola mash, sugar beet pulp, and even alfalfa.  So not only are the animals eating a new genetically modified food that is not actually their diet (cows are grass eaters), but it is covered in Round-Up.  It's no wonder they have to be injected with so many antibotics.  They are all sick.  We are all getting sick. Is there a link?

Monsanto, a leading GMO producer, researched what happens to rats that feed on GM corn.  They showed signs of toxicity in their livers and kidneys. When GM soybeans were fed to rodents there were changes in the testicles, in the sperm cells, in the uterus and ovaries, and even in the DNA functioning of the embryo of their offspring. And yet livestock are still being fed these foods.  And we are being fed the livestock.

The biggest red flag for me is that Monsanto and the other Biotech corporations don’t want you to know that you are using their product.  They want it to be a secret.  They are the biggest lobbyists in congress against GMO labeling.

GMO’s are part of a very new science.  We don’t yet know the long-term effects of these new proteins.  1000’s of doctors are now advising their patients with allergies, autoimmune diseases, and other health issues, to go on non-GMO diets. In fact the American Academy of Environmental Medicine says that all doctors should prescribe non-GMO diets for their patients.  There are studies that link GMO’s to allergies, reproductive problems, immune system problems, accelerated aging, organ damage, gastrointestinal distress, and dysfunctional regulation of cholesterol and insulin.

I think it’s time we know what’s in our food before we take it into our bodies. These big companies don't want you to know. Maybe it's time we make them be more responsible.  Consider no longer putting their products in your grocery carts.  Let’s get back to the wisdom of our children and only eat the foods we know are safe. Food labeling of GMO products is essential to our health. Many countries around the world already have genetic labeling. With genetic labeling in place we would have the freedom to make an informed choice.  

 I don’t think we can wait for the government to do the right thing on this issue.  We need to put a moratorium on GM foods right now.  It’s sends a message that we don’t want to be a future statistic as the Genetic Modification story plays out.  How do we do that? Eat mostly organically grown meat, fruits, and vegetables. Shop at local farmer’s markets or grow your own garden. Cut out most processed foods. Buy blue corn chips (no blue corn has been genetically modified yet). Popcorn is also still Non-GMO.  And look for Non-GMO labels on soy products. It’s really that simple. You can’t afford not to.

If you have time, watch this 10 minute youtube video on Genetically Modified Organisms.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Meditation and vegetables

Today I went to yoga with my daughter.  We always spend a part of our practice in meditative poses. They always bring a cleansing and freshness to my day.  I also listened to interviews of prominent whole food activists from “The Food Revolution Summit" organized by John and Ocean Robbins.  I have thought deeply about the things that were said and meditated about ways that I could include them into my life.  This is a hopeful time as I realize that there are many sane voices in our country moving America toward healthier lifestyles.  Much of the food movement focuses on abandoning our fast food habits, and growing and cooking sustainable, organic foods.

Historically, women were assigned the job of cooking and preparing meals in the home.  But as women come into their power, they often shed this responsibility.  The trouble is, the fast food industry takes up the slack. But McDonald's and Burger King don't provide much nutrition.  They provide convenience.  This is helpful in homes with two busy working parents.  But the cost of this convenience is a national health crisis.  Obesity rates are higher than ever before.  America has some of the highest heart disease, diabetes, cancer and autoimmune disease rates in the world.  All of these diseases are related to the Standard American Diet with its fast food, high salt and high sugar, and high animal protein.

There is a chaos of information in our world. So many voices call us from so many directions.  There is a great need to come back to "home base" to gain perspective.  The dining room table can be that "home base", a processing place for everything that we experience and learn.  

Strangely, much of what we “know” today will be obsolete tomorrow. But good food is never obsolete. Home can be a place where good, healthy food can always be found mixed with loving relationships. Here we slow down and sift through the information of the day together. We need home to be unchanging and unaffected by the information and noise of the fast paced world. A home with a garden where you gently put seeds into the soil, pull out weeds, and harvest delicious fresh produce can be a symbol for a life well lived.  A kitchen can be a place of deep meditation, as you slowly wash and chop and prepare food for eating. A dining room table can be a place where people build invincible bonds. There is no more powerful way to connect than with delicious food.

A kitchen can be a place of inspiration, and of intuition as you prepare foods that you grow.  It can be a place of meditation and calm.  Each afternoon I set out my vegetables and gently wash them.   I take deep meditative breaths, and I begin to cut, slowly. I stay present with them.  The vegetables weave themselves into a stir-fry, or a soup, or a wrap, or a curry.  You can find millions of recipes online, but you never really have all of the ingredients. So you begin to play with what you've got.  "Well, I don’t have basil, so I will use fresh mint.  I don't eat creme, so I'll try coconut milk." Food intuition balances sweet, savory, sour, and bitter flavors.  There is an indescribable sense of discovery with each dish.  The vegetables become the teacher, and meals are prepared with passion and love.  

Try cooking in this way. Then close your eyes, take a bite, and just breathe.  Food shouldn’t be eaten on the run.  It should be a meditation from start to finish. Vegetables and inner peace join hands in the home kitchen.  As John Robbins' beautiful prayer goes:  "May all be fed; May all be healed; May all be loved."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Go plant a garden!

Last week I went to the grocery store and filled my cart as usual. The only three things in my cart that had labels were the box of shredded wheat (which my husband insists on having), the steel cut oats, and the toilet bowl cleaner (no jokes please). I felt like a weirdo.  I had so many vegetables to ring up- a head of cauliflower, 3 bell peppers, three packages of mushrooms, two cucumbers, a bag of kale, two heads of lettuce (red and romaine), a bunch of radishes, a bag each of apples and oranges, three limes, two containers of strawberries, a bunch of bananas, a package of pea pods, a head of red cabbage, a bunch of broccoli, two sweet potatoes, a bulb of garlic, and a bag of onions. You might ask, "Can she use all that stuff in one week?"  Yes, and it still might not be enough.

Vegans eat a lot of quiet, unassuming foods.  They don't come in fancy packages that claim to be low in fat, or high in vitamins.  They just come in their natural colors, and they carry no health claims. Their packages are often edible. They have trouble competing with the loud bombastic packages of junk food in the next aisle.

We pay more for processed foods then the sticker price shows us. Good research shows that homemade food is more healthy.  Don't be fooled, not all junk food is candy and cookies.  Some companies make foods that are purportedly "healthy" but they can't come close to what you make at home with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  Resist the urge to buy cheap processed food that has removed all of the fiber, added lots of salt, fat and sugar, food coloring, emusifiers, and other additives to make it look more appealing.  Companies can even sell it inexpensively to you because much of the ingredients are subsidized by the government.  (That's another blog post).

Take control of your diet.  Cook and eat most of the time at home.  As Michael Pollan says "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."  If everyone in the family helps in the production and clean up, the burden is lightened. My grandmother always said: "Many hands, light work."  Some children won't eat vegetables because they don't know what they are.  So, let's get everyone out in the garden planting those whole foods, weeding them, and picking them.  Plant a fruit tree this year.  Let every child pick their favorite vegetable to plant and be a steward over.  Let's get acquainted with "real" food like our grandparents were.

Save your vegetable peels, coffee grounds, and scraps and dig them into the soil. Whenever you put some of the carbon from your scraps back into the soil where it belongs, you do just a little bit to help with global warming.  This is "organic gardening" at it's best. It's actually fun to see the soil get richer because of this little bit of loving care. It's also a great job to give kids.

Old and young alike can be a part of our health solution. I have recently encouraged my parents who are 85 and 89 years old to donate some property to the little town they live in for a community garden.  They have gardened their whole lives and could show the younger people how it is done. Then people who don't own a piece of land have a crack at inexpensive (or practically free if they put in their own labor), organically grown vegetables. Everyone deserves to be able to eat delicious and healthy food.  It should be a basic human right. I like to stay on the positive side so  I say, "Up with organic gardens!" Let's get our hands dirty and take back our health. My answer to the question of how to solve our nation's health crisis is "Go plant a garden."

Alisa Gravitz, CEO of Green America has said: "Don't Panic.  Go Organic!"  It's time to start digging up a corner of the earth somewhere near you and plant something to eat.  Start small and let it grow. I've always been a sucker for the underdog.  I guess I still am.  Go vegetable team!  I believe in you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Review of “Suicide by Sugar” by Nancy Appleton

Just finished reading the book, “Suicide by Sugar” by Nancy Appleton, Ph.D.  I want to share some of the insights she has into sugar addiction and give us all some hope that we can take charge of our eating habits and make more natural and healthful food choices.

Dr. Appleton begins her book with 140 reasons we should stop eating sugar. I think all of us instinctively know that sugar isn't really good for us.  We just don't really know when to quit. How much is really "OK" for us to have?  If you look at a box of cereal it will tell you how many grams of sugar are in the package but it will never tell you what percentage of sugar you should consume on a daily basis.  Big businesses, that have a stake in you consuming sugar, paid lots of lobbyists to make sure that when congress created our food labels, the percentage of dietary sugar was left off of the label.  Anyway, 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of sugar.  It has been suggested by nutritionists that we consume no more than 2 teaspoons (or 8 grams) of sugar a day.  Can that be done?  Yes, but you have to either spend a ton of time reading labels, or only eat foods that don't contain labels.

So, it's time to say by-by to processed foods.  For instance, a frozen yogurt can contain up to 21 grams of sugar.  That's like taking a small container of yogurt and filling it with 5 1/2 teaspoons of sugar, well over the amount we should consume a day. Sugar isn't a nutrient, it is just empty calories.  We could conceivably eat no sugar and have a very healthy diet.  It is an overly processed white powdery product that at one time came from a plant, but doesn't resemble the plant in any way. (Sounds like a drug doesn't it?). All of the nutrition has been removed and what is left is calories, and an addictive white substance.

Many diseases are connected to the processed food we eat. Diabetes, obesity, hypoglycemia, cancer, dental caries, and even dementia are related to sugar consumption. Obesity should be considered a disease because of the devastation it does to the body. There are studies that have found that sugar addiction can actually begin in the womb. If the mother eats a lot of sugar during pregnancy, her children will choose that same diet later. 

Dieters should learn to limit the amount of all sugars, especially high fructose corn syrup in their food, rather than limiting starchy foods like potatoes, and whole grains.  Fructose can actually suppress the immune system. Children are particularly susceptible to sugary, processed foods.  Once they are introduced to them, they really want nothing else.  If you have cookies and crackers, and other treats in the home, other than whole foods, you practically have to lock them in a safe to keep children from eating them. Children as young as 12 are now being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.  "It is reasonable to conclude that the constant consumption of sugar-laden, highly-refined foods ultimately exhausts the pancreas until it can no longer control blood glucose levels."  Children's body chemistry also makes them susceptible to lowered immune systems, allergies, asthma, hyperactivity, aggressiveness, sadness, low self-esteem, mania, sleepiness, and more.

Sugar addiction is far tougher to overcome than any other addiction, and our society doesn't help. All of our holiday rituals include sugary treats.  Sugar is given to kids to bribe them to have better behavior.  Companies like McDonald's systematically advertise to children to eat highly processed, and highly caloric foods.  I believe this should be against the law as it is in many countries.

So how can we lower the sugar in our diets and not go stir crazy.  I think the first place to begin is to remove all soft drinks (diet or sugary), and even most fruit juices.  Teach family members that we shouldn't eat more than 8 grams of sugar a day, and less is even better.  Have them read labels and figure out their own limits.  Reward children with small trinkets, toys, crayons, balloons, etc, during holidays.  Buy back Easter and Halloween candy.  Create new family and holiday traditions that are based on activities instead of sugary foods.

For adults, it may actually be a little bit harder to overcome a sugar addiction since you have the pocket book. It's better to ease out of the addiction.  Try limiting your intake to just a bite of the sugary treat. Don't allow set-backs to cause you to feel guilt or shame.  Just keep trying.  A lot of the battle is won in the grocery store if you just keep yourself from going down the aisles with treats and instead fill up your cart with healthy whole foods like apples, oranges, bananas, berries, pineapple, kiwi, mango etc.  Mark Twain once said, "Quitting is easy. I have done it many times."  The point is that we just keep making the effort.  We will begin to require sugar less and less and begin to love whole sweet fruits more and more.